Friday, November 14, 2014

Forgotten Books: Cyclone Jim - Ed Earl Repp

Cyclone Jim Gale is a former Texas Ranger turned rancher who has a spread in South Texas. When his teenage ward, Billy Drice, is kidnapped, Jim receives a ransom note telling him to bring $50,000 and head north along the road to Purgatory, an outlaw town in the Texas Panhandle. Jim sets off to follow the kidnappers' instructions, only to have them double-cross him and set off a shoot-out, which Jim survives, of course. He discovers that one of his old enemies from his Ranger days, Grat Kinnard, is behind Billy's kidnapping and is holding the boy prisoner in Purgatory. With the help of the beautiful Silver Lennox, who owns the neighboring ranch, and some of the cowboys who ride for her, Jim heads for Purgatory to rescue Billy and have a final showdown with Kinnard.

That's the entire plot of the book, which is mostly one melodramatic gunfight after another. Also, prac'tickly thuh hull thing is writ in thet phony Western dialect thet'll drive yuh plumb loco arter a while. And when Billy is finally rescued (and you knew he would be), he proves to be so obnoxious a character the reader has a hard time not wishing the bad guys had gone ahead and killed him.

And yet, this book does have a few things going for it. For one thing, though it's set in the Texas Panhandle, the story takes place in the winter, during a heavy snowstorm. This is a nice change of pace from the hot, dry Texas setting that most writers use most of the time. (One of my favorite Jim Hatfield stories is "Law on the Winter Range", for the same reason.)While Repp has some problems with the geography of the region, his descriptions of the landscape are actually pretty well-written, and the action scenes, though breathless and overwritten, are sort of fun. Most of the time, Jim Gale is the standard stalwart pulp Western hero, but on occasion his temper gets away from him and the reader gets the impression that he's even more bloodthirsty and ruthless than the villains. He doesn't stop at torture to get information that he wants, that's for sure. Not what you'd call a great character, but at least a little interesting in places.

UPDATE: This post is based on a review I wrote for the WesternPulps group back in March of 2002. It's hardly a glowing review, but here's the thing: more than twelve years later, I still remember CYCLONE JIM pretty well. Better than plenty of other books I read back then that I thought were better, I'm sure. Ed Earl Repp has a terrible reputation as a writer, and his shorter work is very inconsistent (probably because he farmed out a lot of it). But I enjoyed this novel enough to read several more Westerns by him, and darned if I didn't enjoy them as well. If I can dig them out of the WesternPulps archive, they'll probably show up here in the near future as well.


Rick Robinson said...

That westernish language would drive me crazy before a paragraph was finished.

I've been thinking about life in the western town as portrayed in westerns of all kinds. If a person wanted to make a (legal) living, and didn't want the often backbreaking toil of being a rancher/farmer, what would they do? Run a stable/feedlot? Doctor? Own a saloon (to much violence, maybe), be a gunsmith, run the stage office, own the general store? Sell wagons, be a carpenter? What?

James Reasoner said...

All those things and more, I suspect. Some of the Western pulp authors -- Frank Bonham comes to mind -- specialized in stories where the hero wasn't the stereotypical cowboy or lawman.

Most of the pulpsters didn't overdo the Western dialect to the extent that Repp did. As long as it's not too prevalent, it doesn't bother me. I blame it on Zane Grey, who was a little heavy-handed with the dialect himself but was a huge bestseller anyway.